Get an email alert when Michael's column goes "live" on the Ancestry.Com site
Subscribe to get a weekly notice with the article's summary and web address.
Find Your Ancestors NOW!
  First Name

Last Name


From the Ancestry Daily News  
  Michael John Neill--- 9/20/2001

1880 Census Beginnings: Part I

I was so excited I nearly hyperventilated. When the brown truck pulled up in front of my house, I knew exactly what he was carrying: my 1880 United States Census and National Index from the Family History Library.

I had waited for several years for the product to be complete and ready for shipment. I had several problems I hoped the index would solve, including one particular problem that had plagued me since the beginning of my research twenty years ago.

I was looking for potential siblings of my Florence Ellen Butler Sargent, born ca. 1857 in Missouri of Michigan-born parents. The plan was to go into the search interface of the 1880 United States Census and search nationwide for individuals with the surname Butler born in Missouri of Michigan-born parents. I was nearly drooling as I opened the box and installed the software. I could see myself entering the information in the search boxes and hitting "search." The problem was that after installing the software, I did not see anyway to perform my search directly. I was sorely disappointed. Florence (aka Ellen) is one of my biggest stumbling blocks and I was hoping the 1880 census transcription and index would help me directly.

Don't get me wrong. The census index is a wonderful tool and obviously the result of a great deal of work and time. However, you are probably mistaken if you think it is going to solve all of your research problems immediately.

The set of CDs come in two parts: the National Index and the transcriptions of specific states or regions. The upside to the National Index is that it is "national" in scope and can be helpful if the name is not common and one has a good estimate of the date of birth. Sorting out common names can be difficult in the National Index if one does not have an approximate date and place of birth. This difficulty may be aggravated by:

  • An ancestor giving the census taker information different from what the researcher has
  • Original handwriting that is difficult to read
  • Potential transcription errors
  • Inconsistencies in "abbreviations" for place names

    Generally speaking, whenever possible it is best to search the state or region-specific CDs that comprise the first thirty-five disks of this series.

    With that in mind, I'll discuss how I eventually found one set of my ancestors in the 1880 transcription using the appropriate state CD. We'll leave the Butlers to later as I don't even have names of family members besides Ellen.

    Trotting Around the 1880 Census
    I was looking for the family of John Michael and Franciska Trautvetter who lived in Hancock County, Illinois.

    When I put in the CD for Illinois, the "search Illinois" box came up. I entered John Michael in the Given name(s) box and Trautvetter in the last name box. No such match. Even taking out the given names completely did not result in any Trautvetter entry for John Michael.

    I needed to think.

    John Michael could easily have been listed under the following first names:

    Jahn (a German equivalent--actually one of many)

    Franciska could have easily been listed under:


    A more effective way to search for this family would be to perform an advanced query by going to "Search" on my menu and going to "neighbors-advanced query." This brought up a search box with "Advanced Query" as the title.

    I typed Michael in the "Query for:" box and there were 9533 entries. This means that there were 9533 census entries where Michael was part of the entry. It could be the first name, the last name, the village of residence, etc. 9533 were just too many for me to go through.

    When I entered Michael and Frances in the "Query for:" box, there were several numbers that appeared on the screen. The "records with hits" totaled 86. There were 9533 hits for Michael, 4243 hits for Frances, 86 entries contained both the name Michael and Frances. Clicking on "OK" took me to those specific hits in the Illinois census. A scan of them did not reveal any families that appeared to match my situation.

    I did notice however, that there were both males and females named "Frances." I decided that I needed to consider this as an alternate spelling. I wanted to search for all the alternate spellings at once if possible. I now had at least four possible spellings for the husband's name and four for the wife as well. This results is 16 combinations if searched for separately. I really wanted to avoid this if at all possible.

    And thanks to the ability to perform Boolean searches on this dataset, I can.

    In the "query for:" Box on the "advanced query" search, an "AND" is understood. However, an AND is not the only way I can search. Basically what I now wanted to do was look for those entries that had:

    Michael, Mike, John, or Jahn
    A Frances, Francis, Franciska, or Fannie

    This can be done by entering (michael or mike or john or jahn) and (frances or francis or franciska or fannie) in the "Query for" box

    However, I now had 5266 matches. This was far too many for me to search manually.

    The results screen displays the individual number of hits for each individual search term:

    Michael 9533
    Mike 1459
    John 145026
    Jahn 31
    There were 151720 entries that had at least one of these words in the entry.

    Frances 4234
    Francis 10590
    Franciska 91
    Fannie 5527
    There were 20219 entries that had at least one of these words in the entry.

    I added "and hancock" to the list. This was the county of residence and I was hoping that adding this word to the list would do the trick and I would find the family. Alas, I did not.

    They Are There!!
    It took a great deal of creative searching in order to find this family. This family has been located in the 1880 census transcription and they were located without a manual search of the transcription. When the location is known with relative certainty a manual search should be conducted if the region is not overly large. Even if the family is located on the 1880 Census CD, the actual census entry should be viewed. This family though provides an excellent start to our discussion of more advanced search techniques. Next week, we'll find out how I eventually located this family and the procedure that was used. In the meantime, those of you with the index, may wish to experiment with the Boolean searching capabilities of the advanced query search. We'll learn more about effectively using this powerful feature of the CDs in next week's article.

    Search the 1880 Census for free
    (Available for sale from FamilySearch also on CD ROM)
  • You can subscribe to Images Online at this site...

    Back to Michael Uses the 1880 Census CDs 

    Copyright 2001,
    Michael John Neill's Genealogy Web Site--any other use of this article requires the permission of the author.

    Search Images Online
      Given Name(s)

    Last Name


    Genealogy Section of Ebay

    ---type in your surname or county and state in the search box that comes up on the left hand side of your screen. I've found and purchased several books this way!

    Search the 1930 Census!